Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm looking for a decent head lamp, with a bright light and good battery life. Most on the market these days seem to be LED based, but aside from those three (perhaps obvious) considerations are there other things to look out for when selecting a purchase?

It's really for general hiking use - so setting up camp at night, generally for light in the tent at night and the odd bit of night hiking (not so much biking.)

share|improve this question
3  
What are you going to use it for? Night hiking, Night biking (on or off road?), setting up camp at night, etc.? –  Jay Bazuzi Feb 13 '12 at 3:11
    
@JayBazuzi Thanks, good points to clarify - see updated answer. –  berry120 Feb 13 '12 at 21:07
add comment

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here is what I look for in a good headlamp:

  • LED is best for most uses, but you need to decide if you want a "spot focused" LED (usually one high powered LED in the center) or "diffuse light" LEDs (usually an array of many small LEDs). I like headlamps that have both, but sometimes you want one over the other (do you want maximum distance vision on a dark trail, or a more pleasant diffuse light for getting around inside a tent at night?)
  • How many brightness settings does it have? Some have many, some have only a few. A powerful LED with many settings can still have long battery life at the dim settings - one without good "dim" settings will always eat through it's batteries quicker.
  • What kind of battery does it take? If you are only doing short trips, it may not matter, but if you are using it for longer periods of time, you may need to choose between common AA or AAA, or a less common size, like lithium photo cells, or 2032 coin cells. If I were traveling, I'd prefer the more common sizes.
  • Strap on top of the head or not - personal preference, but on a larger headlamp (bigger battery pack) a top strap is nice. It can also get in the way of some hats or helmets.
  • Helmet compatible? If you need to wear a helmet with it, some models are specifically intended to be helmet compatible (usually larger straps or clips that allow it to fit over the helmet).
share|improve this answer
add comment

For me, feature number one is regulated light output. When I bought my first head lamp I was quite surprised that the brightness significantly dropped after a few initial hours. This is called unregulated light output: the brightness simply decreases as the battery level goes down. It means that you will only enjoy decent brightness for the first 20 % of time or so and then the light output falls below a decent level and gets progressively worse. Regulated lamp keeps the brightness at constant level and then stops working more or less suddenly at the end of the battery lifetime. Here’s a graph comparison taken from Princeton Tec:

regulated vs. non-regulated LED

I much prefer the regulated mode, to the point I don’t get why decent outdoor stuff manufacturers like Petzl still sell unregulated lamps at all.

Second most important thing would be the power source. I’m happy with a compact lamp that includes the batteries in the same box as the light source. Depending on your requirements you might need a separate battery box. It offers more power and you can keep it under your jacket in cold weather to keep the batteries warm and happy. On the other hand it’s another thing to keep somewhere on your body and another possible point of failure (the cables between the battery pack and the light are known to be pretty flimsy).

If you decide for a compact lamp where the batteries are in the same box as the light source, you still have the choice at least between AA, AAA and special batteries. I have a lamp that requires 3 AAA batteries and wouldn’t choose the same type again, because I can’t easily change batteries between my gear (the GPS and camera use regular AAs), the AAAs are little less common (so you might be out of luck when looking for cold-weather Lithium batteries, for example) and the odd number of batteries is a nuisance when charging. For similar reasons I don’t want a lamp powered by special batteries.

I mostly don’t care for other things. Waterproof body is always a good idea. And there’s always the question of how much light power is enough. The simple answer is any modern LED lamp will probably do for you, unless you have some extra requirements like fast movement (biking, skiing or running in the night). If you do have these extra requirements, it’s good to see what other people in your target group use, and test in the real conditions.

share|improve this answer
1  
Generally I much prefer non-regulated mode. I can generally tell when my light is getting dim and I MUCH prefer that to sudden loss of light without warning. Also your graph is a little misleading. Regulated gives more even light at a cost of either a lower maximum lumens or shorter time span (usually both). The graph they created just fills in a flat line at max light out to max time and that's not really what regulated does. –  Russell Steen Feb 15 '12 at 20:49
    
For me the main problem is that the non-regulated lamp I had went too dim after the first 20% of the total time or so. It simply did not make good use of the batteries. And my current regulated one flashes several times when the batteries are getting low and then it keeps going for a few more minutes, giving me time to change the batteries. While I agree that the regulated mode might not be perfect for everybody, I think it's a better default than the non-regulated circuits. –  zoul Feb 16 '12 at 6:14
    
I'd say that's a function of the lamp you had. I have a couple of non-regulated ones that do not have that problem. It sounds much more like an issue of "low quality" vs. "high quality" than "regulated" vs. "non-regulated". –  Russell Steen Feb 16 '12 at 14:57
    
Could be. It was a Tikka by Petzl. –  zoul Feb 16 '12 at 15:56
1  
Lithium or Alkali batteries? –  Russell Steen Feb 16 '12 at 16:12
show 1 more comment
  1. Beam spread -- Wide, narrow, adjustable? (depending on what you want)
  2. Angle (generally up/down) -= Can you direct it where you want?
  3. Ease of turning on/off and changing settings -- I personally hate lamps that make me cycle through strobe to get to another setting (yes a few do)
  4. Strap & Comfort -- Is your head going to ache after wearing it for hours?
  5. Red light -- It's not supposed to bother your nightvision, but I've never found it to be a critical feature. I just dim mine with white light and do fine.
  6. Weight -- Ounces make pounds, as they say.
  7. Batteries -- As others have pointed out, the compatibility with other power sources is important so that you can carry fewer types of batteries.

Some look for replaceable bulbs, but headlamps are so cheap and long lasting that I do not. After all, who can say there will be bulbs available for it 10 years from now when I need them.

You've already mentioned battery life and brightness.

Some LEDs cannot be used with Lithium batteries, if that matters to you.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.